A Laptop Infected With Six of the World’s Most Dangerous Computer Viruses Is Up for Auction. The Bid Is Now More Than $1.2 Million

The malware was installed by an artist on a Samsung notebook from 2008.

Guo O Dong, “The Persistence of Chaos” (2019). Courtesy of the artist and Deep Instinct.
Guo O Dong, “The Persistence of Chaos” (2019). Courtesy of the artist and Deep Instinct.

Earlier this year, a cybersecurity firm commissioned online artist Guo O Dong to take a more than 10-year-old laptop and infect it with six of the most malicious computer viruses in the world.

Now, the artwork, titled The Persistence of Chaos, is up for auction online, and several hundred bids have already been logged. The current going price for the most dangerous laptop in the world? More than $1.2 million.

Sponsored by a company called Deep Instinct, the project cost over $10,000 to realize. Much of that went to ensuring that the laptop, a 2008 Samsung Blue Netbook, was safely firewalled from other computers. In technical terms, the device is air-gapped, meaning that it’s isolated from unsecured networks like the internet so that the malware can’t spread. It’s even currently quarantined in a solitary housing unit in New York.

The artist brought in engineers to install the six malware viruses, which sound like they’re named after drinks at a shady underground bar: WannaCry, BlackEnergy, ILOVEYOU, MyDoom, SoBig, and DarkTequila. They’re just as sinister as they sound, destroying computers, copying personal files, stealing banking information, and opening digital doors for mass hacking. Altogether, the six viruses are responsible for an estimated $95 billion in damages worldwide.

Considering the damage this malware can do, the computer can only be sold under specific terms. According to a disclaimer on the auction lot:

The sale of malware for operational purposes is illegal in the United States. As a buyer you recognize that this work represents a potential security hazard. By submitting a bid you agree and acknowledge that you’re purchasing this work as a piece of art or for academic reasons, and have no intention of disseminating any malware. Upon the conclusion of this auction and before the artwork is shipped, the computer’s internet capabilities and available ports will be functionally disabled.

When asked whether the computer could still be weaponized, a representative for the project confirmed that it could, but said the terms of the sale nevertheless met current law.

Guo O Dong, “The Persistence of Chaos” (2019). Courtesy of the artist and Deep Instinct.

Guo O Dong, “The Persistence of Chaos” (2019). Courtesy of the artist and Deep Instinct.

Originally, Guo intended to title the project “Antivaxxer”—a name with obvious political implications. Since then, the meaning of the work has changed for him.  

“The piece emphasizes that internet and IRL are the same place,” Guo tells artnet News. “Placing these pieces of malware—which we ordinarily think of as remote processes happening somewhere on [a] network, but surely not to us—into this one crappy old laptop concretizes them.”

Guo himself is surprised by the attention the work has garnered, noting that it “changes the effect of the piece significantly.”

“I think it’s fascinating. Depending on how you want to look at it, this piece could be considered an exhibit of historical weaponry. These pieces of malware were specifically chosen in many cases for the monetary loss that they caused. What does it mean that someone wants to pay so much to acquire this object?”

The money from the auction, which ends on Monday, will go back to the artist. He says he’s weighing two options for how to use it. He may put the proceeds toward another project. But he says he’s also considering another idea: taking the money and burning it.


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